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At the climate strike, kids say they are fighting for their lives

Quartz/Johnny Simon
Adults in the room.
New YorkPublished Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The youth led and the adults followed in more than a thousand cities around the world holding climate strikes yesterday (Sept. 20).

Organizers of the rallies said their goal is to secure a future for a generation that sees it slipping away. For millions, especially those in the path of extreme weather, global warming is quite literally a matter of life and death. For many others, it is also a matter of what kind of world they and their children will inherit.

Quartz/Johnny Simon

Quartz talked to dozens of people at the march in New York City. The interviews below have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Katie Eder, 19

Head of the Future Coalition

Michael J. Coren

The truth is if we don’t skip school now, we’re going to be forced to later. We’re fighting for our future. That’s what it comes down to: How are we expecting kids to sit in school and learn for some future job they are going to have, if they’re unsure that they’re going to have a future at all?

We’re in a different time than our parents grew up in. And so sometimes it can be hard to convince them to allow us to protest in this way. But when it comes down to it, we have no other choice. If we are not the ones to do this, nobody else is going to. The adults simply don’t have the energy and backing to be able to run this movement on their own. They need young people.

When you look at history, young people have always been the catalyst for change. That is just the truth. And so this movement, in order for it to be successful, needs the energy, determination, the courage of young people. Adults need to allow us to lead and that includes parents, teachers, superintendents of school districts. They need to trust us that we have the knowledge, the wisdom, the passion to lead this movement and to save our futures.

Vanessa Wruble, 45

Executive director, March On

Michael J. Coren

All of a sudden, people are taking climate change seriously in a way they weren’t before. And part of that is trigger events. Look at what happened in Houston. Look at what happened in the Bahamas. We’re seeing it. We’re feeling it firsthand.

I’d say there’s a gender divide in activism right now in which women are controlling the resistance and leading the resistance. When you go to any meeting, it’s full of women. The youth coalition, the organizers, are 90% women.

When Trump got elected, women wanted ownership of that movement. And I think that it’s just rolled from there. I don’t think women now are willing to say, “I’m going to leave this in someone else’s hands.” It’s become abundantly clear that there are no adults in the room.

If we don’t fix this, all of the other issues we care about are going to get worse and worse. I think it became clear this is different because it threatens the very existence of our entire species. I think we will see it snowball into this generation’s civil rights movement.

Rose, 6th grade

Academy of Arts and Letters

Michael J. Coren
Rose, center

I’m here because of Greta Thunberg, because of how she inspired me. Because she’s fighting for my future, and I want a future. But if nobody’s gonna do anything about climate change, climate change is going to kill me, and I won’t have a future.

My parents said, “If you work hard and long enough, then you can make a difference.” So it’s like, oh, I should be one of these people who are working hard to make a difference on climate change in my daily life.

Mekhi, 15

Beacon High School

Michael J. Coren

I was talking to my friends earlier today, and one of them inspired me with the statement: “Man-made problems required man-made solutions.” And I was like, that’s a great statement. I’m here at this march because this is a big issue. There are a lot of people who are already affected. There’s a lot of animal life that are affected by this problem. And who knows who else will be affected?

Now I see a lot of other people in these marches. And I just feel like, I should join them. I feel a lot like an activist now. And I want to stay that way.

Stacey Petrov, 19

Wagner College

Michael J. Coren

The younger generation thinks of this as grief, like we’re grieving our home. Somebody at a conference quoted someone saying the older generation sees it as a political thing. But for us, we see it as pure grief. We don’t see endangered animals and think, oh, that’s so sad, they’re gonna die. We see ourselves as endangered animals because if this doesn’t get fixed in the next five years, we are going to die, or there’s going to be mass chaos.

One of the things for me is that if this doesn’t change, drastically, I don’t see a future past 30 for me, because of how severe the weather is going to become and how severe the Earth is going to change. So that’s a really terrifying thought. Everybody wants kids and to grow up with a family and stuff like that. And for me, it might not happen. Because if things don’t get better than that, we might just not have them.

My mom, she completely supports me. My dad, he also believes that climate change is a thing and that it needs help. He just wants to know the actual facts more, so he gets a little bit more research on it. I don’t have the time to educate him. I have my own life trying to save the Earth rather than educating him on it. He can easily look on the computer himself and figure it out. I don’t need to do it for you. You’re a grown-up adult.

Catie Sheley, 19
Emily Lagace, 21

Wagner College 

Catie, right, and Emily, left.

Catie: [Global warming] is the biggest, the most important thing to every single person on this planet, and we need to treat it like it is. And our government is not. And we do not have time to waste. We do not. And I feel like, if we don’t push them to action, nothing is going to happen. Because it’s so much easier for them to profit. And for them to just continue doing what they’re doing them to actually stand up and make change. And if they’re not going to do it, then we’re going to tell them to.

I’ve always cared about the planet. Growing up, like you’re taught in school about recycling, but I was also raised by people that told me that climate change wasn’t real, and that it was all kind of a political thing. But as I got a little older, like into my teen years, and I was able to educate myself and realize, oh, my God, this is scary. And it’s happening right now.

Emily: I’ve always thought it was really important. As more and more information has come out, it’s almost like a guilt thing. I feel personally guilty for something that I didn’t really have a hand in. But there’s only so much that we can do. And so I think that’s why we’re all here today.

It isn’t a Democratic or Republican thing. It’s humanist. Right? And it’s for a planet, for the place that we live. Thinking about climate change is honestly my number one stressor. I’m really terrified to bring children into a world that might be dying. I don’t want to do that.  

Catie: I think that there is not a single thing that people will not do for money. And I’m afraid of what that will mean for our planet. I like to stay optimistic because the alternative is depressing. But I mean, we’ve been marching, we’ve been asking for this for years and years and years and years.

Emily: And we’re getting to the turning point. The science is like, we are getting to the point where it will be too late. And that’s really scary. Because 30 years from now, they might get it in their heads we actually should have done something, but by then it will be too late. And that’s what scares me the most.

Catie: People that want to deny this will continue to deny this. The science is there. It’s not an opinion. The science is there. If people are denying it, it’s a choice. They don’t want to believe this and nothing you say can make them believe it.

Niamh, 14

Michael J. Coren

I saw in the media women standing up for the environment like AOC and Greta [Thunberg], and I became interested because kids in my generation are really trying to affect change and influence people in positions of power. I just thought that was inspiring.

It’s just kind of beyond repair, our planet, the state we’re in. There are some things we can do. But I don’t think we’re going to be able to completely eradicate all the things that are wrong with our society. We’re not going to switch completely to wind power, solar power and nuclear, but we can change little things.

Obviously, my children and my grandchildren aren’t going to get to experience the world as we know it right now. Because the planet is deteriorating. So I kind of think my life is going to be filled with like watching animals, watching species go extinct.

John Meeske, 67

Former Yale administrator

Michael J. Coren

I’m retired now, so I have time to do these things instead of sitting in the office all day long. And I have great respect for people who aren’t retired and still take time out of their busy schedules to do this.

I’m worried about the kids. I want them to have a future. And certainly worried about the way things are going in this country, especially with our leadership. Trump and the Republicans don’t seem to recognize what’s going on with climate. And so I hope that this will bring some attention to the problem and maybe get them some of them to do some of the things that are necessary.

Avery, 9

Michael J. Coren
Her costume was inspired by Greta Thunberg’s quote, “Our house is on fire.”

The earth is in trouble, and we need to stop polluting the climate.

I don’t want to eat too much meat. And reduce pollution and reduce things that make the Earth hurt.

Elizabeth Payne, 49

Mother of Avery

Michael J. Coren

I had not been really politically active the first four years of [Avery’s] life. But then when Trump was elected, that was a sort of a linchpin for putting my outrage into action.

We can’t account for Greta’s magic. It speaks to [Avery]. It speaks to me. We watch her on YouTube. We follow her on Instagram, and we see her wherever she’s speaking. I am not astute enough to explain climate change to [Avery], but Greta can. And I think the message of listening to the children really speaks to her. We’re all so lucky that Greta exists.

The youth can call out corruption like nobody’s business. And we need to listen to them. I think we underestimate them. This all started because of one little Swedish girl. Every person who’s here, this is Greta’s show.

Quartz/Johnny Simon

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